We were just finishing up our run the other day and my friend, educational consultant David Altshuler, was talking about his son Ellory’s cross-country team.
David said he likes cross-country because it’s a sport where you can really prove what you’re capable of doing. There are no defensive players trying to stop you; it’s just you against the course. David also told me he liked Ellory’s coach who had told the team, “If today you do what others won’t, tomorrow you’ll do what others can’t.”
I nodded, tacitly agreeing that the coach’s words made good sense.
But it got me to thinking – how many sayings do we listen to, accept, and maybe even follow just because they sound good? Are we guiding our lives on words that appeal to us simply because they’re grammatically convenient?
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog!”
“It’s not how any times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get up!”
“I used to be sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
Huh? What did you just say? Do we really believe this stuff or does it just trip off our tongues so lightly that we buy it without a second thought?
Maybe we shouldn’t be so easily disarmed by these simple sayings. Treacly aphorisms don’t just burrow their way into our brains and hang on the walls in sales directors’ cubicles. They can also change the world.
FDR buoyed a country devastated by the depression when he assured Americans that the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” JFK ushered in a decade of public service when he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
More relevant to our own times, Barack Obama sold what can arguably be considered the largest consumer product in the world, the presidency of the United States of America, with the uplifting cheer “Yes we can.”
Meanwhile, Senator Chuck Grassley almost single-handedly derailed health care legislation with the inaccurate but powerful phrase “pulling the plug on Grandma.”
In our over-stimulated, over-caffeinated, over-connected world, well-crafted clichés become the stenographers’ shorthand of clever communicators. And just like checking a new car’s quality by kicking its tires, the sayings often provide a comforting and expedient, if irrelevant, benchmark.
After all, if opposites attract, then why would birds of a feather flock together?
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then why is out of sight, out of mind?
Because the words sound good together, that’s why.